Stairway to Finland


The rainy weather in San Francisco gave me the perfect reason to head to a lecture last night at the SFMOMA. It was on Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect and designer. The lecture was given by Markku Lahti, director of the Alvar Aalto Foundation and Museum. He took us through Aalto’s life (1898-1976) using photos and sharing stories. What I really dug seeing in these images was his use of wood and brick. You can see the brick work in a dorm he was commissioned to do at MIT, as well as a building for the Finnish House of Culture. The variegated brick work is probably too time consuming and costly to be used in today’s buildings. He also had an amazing attention to detail. Aalto made handles for doors, chairs for lobbies, put stairs on the inside, in lobbies, instead of the outside proving that he was really thinking of how light came in and how a simple staircase can be made more communal and more inviting. One of his most famous buildings was the Paimio Sanatorium, a hospital for tuberculosis. He approached the task with extraordinary care, even taking the time to pretend he was sick, laying around on his back for hours.


Despite the extreme attention to detail in his buildings, in his day to day life he was the dreamer, letting his wives take care of the details. Both his first and second wives were architects, as well. The lecturer mentioned a funny side note, that Aalto put a bigger stair at the bottom of a stairway in his house so the “lady of the house” could pause for ten seconds on her grand entrance to a dinner party. I love that. And, I’ll leave you with this parting quote of his, “Home is not a place for a design competition.” I like my home to look great, but I also like the idea of leaving some imperfections. Looks like I’m in good company on that one.

Lots of resources online, maybe start with the bio on our site.